„Here many conversations take place not in the halls or offices, but in the corridors, over coffee. That’s where we are convincing other MEPs to our vision of transport. He says – vote for this regulation, and I will vote for you for another. Sometimes such „exchanges” concern completely different directives. We can support the French or Spaniards on certain provisions to ensure that they will vote with us on transport,” says Elżbieta Łukacijewska, Polish MEP from the Committee on Transport and Tourism. At the same time, she reveals which clauses of the Mobility Package are crucial for Poland and must be defended, and what can be sacrificed in the negotiations.
Dorota Ziemkowska, Trans.Info: This interview is taking place at an interesting moment – the deputies will get familiar with the proposals for amendments from the rapporteurs. The next step is to vote on them in the Transport Committee. It is also said that the entire European Parliament may be voting very quickly on the Mobility Package. How does building a coalition look like before these events?
Elżbieta Łukacijewska, MEP, member of the Transport and Tourism Committee: It seems that time is the biggest problem. We have very little time. After the holidays, the Parliament starts work on January 7, and on January 10 the Transport Committee will vote on the Mobility Package. We’re talking about the calendar that is currently on the table. The situation is dynamic and everything can change.
At the moment, however, it is clear that there will be very little time to get a good idea of the rapporteurs’ proposals. They appeared on December 19 and from that moment we started to build new compromises. Of course, we discuss the proposals all the time, we wonder what we will fight for the most and what to defend, but everything will depend on specific amendments anyway. Of course, the holiday season is not conducive to work, but if we want this Parliament to finish work on the Mobility Package, we have to sit down on it. The deadline for submitting alternative proposals is 8 January at 12 pm.
Do all countries care about it?
Views are different. One is keen on swiftly adopting Parliament’s position, others are claiming that the provisions we have now are better than nothing. The trialogue will show.
Today it is difficult to clearly determine what will be the final position of our delegation because we do not know all the details. However, if we had to pass the requirement that vehicles return to the member countries once every 3-4 weeks, then, of course, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will oppose, because the protection of social rights of the machine is absurd and nonsense.
What will Poland defend the most?
Of course, it would be ideal if we could exclude international transport from the rules on posting. However, as you well know, the governments of member countries, namely the EU Council, have agreed that bilateral operations, i.e. those organized from the country of residence and to the country of residence, are to be excluded from the posting. The Council also excluded two cross-trade operations. We know from talks with carriers and employers that this is not the optimal solution. We want to increase the number of cross trade operations excluded from the posting. If there were eight, it would be perfect. Six is the absolute minimum.
At what expense will Poland fight for these solutions?
As I said, I do not know what corrections the rapporteurs will eventually make. However, it is clear when I talk to specialists from Poland who manage transport companies and deal with logistics or supply chains, that the most important for them is to exclude international operations from the posting regulations. We can negotiate the rules on cabotage. The EU Council proposed that three cabotage operations should be allowed during 7 days. We can agree, although the limitation of operations is unfavourable for carriers, restricting the freedom of economic activity in the common market.
The Council also introduced the so-called cooling off period of up to five days, and we absolutely cannot agree to that. Here we will negotiate hard and we have already prepared amendments to shorten this period. To how many days or hours, we cannot tell yet. Certainly, it will be difficult because this was the proposal of MEP Ismail Ertug (rapporteur on access to the profession and market of road transport and regulations regarding cabotage, included in the Mobility Package – ed note).
I heard that he will fight for it.
Oh yes. For him, it is very important. We used to go to Greece for a conference. We met at the airport and sat over coffee to talk from the heart. He told me then that there are parking lots near his town in Bavaria, surrounded by trucks from Eastern Europe. Vehicles continuously perform transport operations from there. Only drivers change. He admitted that it was a problem for German carriers, and he promised to deal with it. He looks primarily at what he promised to voters from his district. He will fight for them.
I think there is a group of people behind every MEP who have promised something.
I do not know how it is with others. What matters to me is the interest of the Polish consumer, Polish business and companies, which of course involves the interests of Polish drivers. The voter from Poland and above all from Podkarpacie is the one behind me.
But even Poland’s voice is not uniform. Let’s take the unions as an example…
Yes, indeed, the unions have a different opinion on the Mobility Package. We felt their point of view during the votes because they supported the French and German positions and sought to reject the mandate of the Transport Committee. I do not understand this because it was an act that would be against Polish workers.
Only how will you fight their arguments? They also talk about the wellbeing of Polish employees. They argued that they defend the interests of drivers, who not only earn enough money, but a significant part of their payments is tax-free, which means they will have low pensions.
And I will agree with it. Of course, in Poland, in addition to a lower than the Western minimum salary, the driver gets allowances that are not grossed up. And indeed, for this reason, they may not have a decent pension. Only this is due to Polish, not EU, regulations. Trade unions should lobby for this in the country and unnecessarily mix these two topics. The ordinary grey economic reality remains a problem. Posting means the administrative burden for companies, especially smaller ones. Increased costs, duties can lead to a reduction or bankruptcy of some of them, which means that the drivers will simply lose their jobs. However, one must look at our Polish reality when making such decisions.
However, if I were, for example, against including cabotage in the posting regulations from the first day, someone would say that we are not really fighting for the drivers. We agreed, however, that drivers who work abroad from the first day are required to get the rate that is there. This will allow them to stay at a level similar to their colleagues, eg from Germany or France, and it is fair.
But this is what happens when companies associated with capital from other countries support unionists from another country. They actually have completely different priorities. It happens.
I see that we are going over the issue of lobbying …
… which is legally and consciously cultivated in the European Parliament. Maciej Wroński from the employers’ association Transport and Logistics Poland (TLP) argues that Western countries spend billions on lobbying, whereas Poland – only millions. Do you feel the lack of Polish lobbying?
Indeed, the EP is lobbying. It is registered, it is carried out according to specific rules. Even several former Polish MEPs became lobbyists for Polish companies.
Meanwhile, there is still a conviction in Poland that „lobbying” is a negative term. The Polish Parliament is actually closed to this type of activity. It has drawbacks – if it is closed to those for whom the law is created, how is it going to function well afterwards? Apart from this, I am not entirely convinced that the indication that other countries allocate billions for lobbying and that Polish millions are legitimate. Nobody is paying bribes to anyone.
It is not a secret, however, that companies from abroad organize larger events, conferences and meetings to which they invite specialists and politicians. The lobbyists of the German trade unions are unbeatable in this respect. They have specialists who know the environment and are able to get along with both Polish and foreign deputies. Sometimes it is very hard when they come to our offices and try to convince us of their reasons!
Meanwhile, Poland is on its way on this topic. I can think of literally one person who comes from the industry and works permanently in Brussels instead of flying in and out. This is not the only problem. Even the government itself does not have a proper group that would lobby on behalf of Polish interests, go to meetings with Commissioners and MEPs.
How do the Germans lobby, whom you gave as a model?
There, every document is thoroughly analyzed by the Permanent Representation of the German Government. Including the direction in which the MEPs should move the discussion during the negotiations. That is good for Germany and for local companies. They have excellent specialists in the Representation who have been involved in this for years and do not rule out that they can be substantively supported by companies from the industry.
Germany is among our opponents in the fight for the Mobility Package. Does someone from our coalition partners have good lobbying and negotiation strategy?
What does it mean from our coalition partners?
I wanted to ask you about that. A coalition was discussed before the meeting of the Council of the EU, and then it turned out that several countries abstained – for example, Spain, or voted only in accordance with their interests.
I will come back to what we did before the holidays. We created a broad coalition because it was based not only on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe but also included Spain, Portugal, Finland, Malta and Ireland. I think that such coalition is certain. Theoretically. After all, much will depend on what corrections the rapporteurs of the Mobility Package will present.
It may turn out that one of the countries has entered the coalition due to the clause, which has been changed. We do not know this today. Besides, there is a risk that under the influence of Poland’s relentless position on the EU Council, some countries may withdraw from the coalition.
What about the Czech Republic and Slovakia?
In the beginning, our Eastern European neighbours wanted to support us in blocking the unfavourable clauses of the Mobility Package, but then they were discouraged by our reluctance to make any concessions.
However, returning to your question about the evaluation of Central and Eastern lobbying. Unfortunately, in general, the countries of the „new Union” must still learn it. Poland, as one of the largest, should give direction, become a leader.
And be able to convince the most resistant MEPs to our arguments. Such as already mentioned MEP Ismail Ertug, the author of the regulations on cabotage. Polish representatives in the European Parliament, with whom I spoke, complained the most about him. Apparently, it is the most difficult yo persuade him. Is it really so?
I suppose that both he and other deputies who are former trade union activists, or are supported by trade unionists, do everything to make the proposals they represent comply with the line of trade unions.
Besides, please do not forget that we are approaching elections and everyone is looking primarily at their electorate. If Ertug and all the MEPs who supported the wrong proposals used common-sense and listened to what the representatives of transport companies say, as well as the drivers themselves, they would not present proposals that could only harm the industry.
It means that due to the upcoming elections is not a good time to make decisions on the Mobility Package?
No, it’s not like that. We have to work on it. If it were as you say, we would not have reached any compromise. Before holidays, one position of the Transport Committee could not be worked out. Only everyone would defend their position.
And is it not that this entrenchment has just happened?
It is hard to say with any certainty. We are currently waiting for proposals for amendments created by the rapporteurs of all documents included in the Mobility Package. When they appear, we’ll see what the MEPs’ reactions will be like.
„Success is possible, good arguments, talks and diplomacy are enough” – this is what the MEPs usually say. Only what does it actually mean?
Above all, building compromises. What is easier in Parliament when, apart from participating in talks, it still has good private contacts …
What kind of?
The idea is to like each other humanly. Not like in Poland, where the coalition and the opposition clash with each other and hardly talk. Here, many conversations take place not in halls, in offices, but in corridors, over coffee. Convincing other MEPs to our vision of transport. He says – vote for this recipe, and I will vote for you for another.
Sometimes such „exchanges” concern completely different directives. We can support the French or Spaniards on certain provisions to ensure that they will take our hand at transport. We are talking about a whole web of soft skills.
Can you give an example?
Often such talks are conducted by heads of political groups. The directives come from various committees, and sometimes one can let go of something to play in another.
Such negotiations are very frequent. Also between MEPs, their assistants. Our three from EPP (European People’s Party – ed.), I.e., Wim van de Camp and Andor Deli, are seen three times a week, and our assistants even more often. We are currently preparing a strategy, writing out the roles, what we will do when someone from political opponents behaves in some way.
Who in such conversations was the most difficult opponent?
The toughest conversations are with those MEPs who come from trade unions.
Of course, these are always very cordial meetings, but it is hard to hide that it is difficult for these deputies to explain that the purchasing power of the Polish and, let us say, the Luxembourg consumer, is completely different. It is very difficult to talk to, for example, Georges Bach from Luxembourg, who works in the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, as well as in the Committee on Transport and Tourism. And he looks „after union”. What he can not do in this spirit in the first place, he tries to get in the second one.
We are talking about the necessity of discussions and negotiations all the time. During the work on the Mobility Package, however, there were more and more spectacular actions, such as this, when the deputy Wim van de Camp spent the night in the cabin of the truck. Does it really work or is it just a gesture for the audience?
Something like that definitely changes the view of the person who runs the given Mobility Package report. As I remember Wim from the first meetings, he only regretted how poor the driver is, that he must sleep in such an ugly truck. Then he spent a night in a cabin and now there is no discussion about it. He is already convinced that drivers need to be allowed to spend the night in the cabin.
Earlier, he did not believe when we said that the cabins are more comfortable than many hotels in which one has to share the room with strangers. Of course, this will not balance the whole situation, mainly for drivers from Romania and Bulgaria, who sleep in old vehicles, and get low rates because they are employed by letterbox companies. Nevertheless, it gave Wim the thought that the problem was somewhere else than he thought.
Does this mean that such actions should be organized for the majority of MEPs?
Nobody will force MEPs to sleep in the cabin … Of course, transport companies could at least invite them.
How can the Polish negotiating position in the Union be improved?
It would certainly be good if the associations that bring together large entities work harder with those that associate small ones. One, common voice, would sound stronger. There is also a lack of conferences that would clearly show the effects of the negotiated legal provisions. And it works. To this day I remember one, during which an expert in the construction of driver’s infrastructure presented calculations, which showed that to meet the demands of MEPs, all drivers would stay overnight in hotels, it would take 20 years of construction works. Such practitioners best show legal absurdities. Unfortunately, there are still not enough of them.
And one more thing that I will repeat like a mantra. In our Permanent Representation to the European Union, there must be people who specialize in transport and have been doing it for years. Not only to prepare the minister for the meeting with the Council but also to participate in the discussions. Because thematic or sectoral meetings are still organized, on which the minister may not always appear, and on which his representative should be present. It’s logical, then, that it must be someone who is perfectly familiar with the topic. The well-prepared Polish representation is absolutely crucial. And unchangeable – experts who know the industry, working in the Union for Poland, should be outside politics.